The rapid rate of technological advancement presents an opportunity for law enforcement professionals and agencies. Technology that gives law enforcement officers the ability to execute their tasks more efficiently and effectively can save lives. Given the severity of the situations law enforcement faces, even small improvements in technology can have a significant impact.
Unfortunately, criminals also realize the benefits of advanced technology and often use it to their own advantage. For law enforcement professionals to protect the public against these types of threats, law enforcement technology must stay a step ahead.
In recent years, several law enforcement tools have made their way into agencies across the country, helping law enforcement improve their skills and accountability. While the improvements are obvious, they are just the tip of the iceberg. The only thing sure about technology is that it is sure to change.
GPS Tagging System for Police Pursuits
Although high-speed chases are a staple in movies, they are actually both costly and dangerous. StarChase has developed a GPS tagging system for cars leaving the scene of a crime to minimize or eliminate the need for police pursuits. With this technology, vehicles fleeing from police can be tagged by a GPS launcher mounted behind the grille of a police car. With a burst of compressed air, the laser-guided tag is fired at the car. Once the tag is attached to the fleeing vehicle, GPS coordinates are provided on a mapping portal, enabling police to wait for a safe moment to intercept the vehicle.
The monitoring of location and speed of suspects is proven to help improve arrest rates and decrease accidents. According to a 2013 study of police departments commissioned by StarChase, suspects on average tracked with the technology slowed to within 10 mph of the posted speed limit once the police car fell back. More than 80 percent of offenders were apprehended, which can be compared to approximately 70 percent of those in incidents with aggressive police pursuit.
Agencies in Austin, Texas, and Duluth, Georgia, use the device, along with the U.S. Border Patrol and Arizona Highway Patrol. Each system costs $5,000.
Handheld Narcotics Analyzer
TruNarc, the handheld narcotics analyzer from Thermo Scientific, has already made its way into national and international news. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the South Australian police purchased six of these $20,000 analyzers in 2014 to battle street-level drug dealing and trafficking. In Franklin County, Missouri, the device was used in 2014 to make a record-breaking 8.8-pound methamphetamine drug bust, according to Roche Madden of Fox 2.
TruNarc can identify more than 100 controlled substances, cutting agents and precursors. From cocaine and methamphetamine to emerging substances such as bath salts and spice, TruNarc can determine in seconds the composition of the narcotic, stimulant, depressant, analgesic or hallucinogen by using Raman spectroscopy. Most samples can be taken without direct contact, eliminating possible contamination.
The device provides law enforcement professionals with a quick and accurate analysis of any given substance. When investigators have to send in a substance to a drug-testing laboratory, this process can take months. But with the handheld analyzer, investigators can immediately determine if the substance is harmful, helping keep citizens safe and allowing drug users to get into rehab faster. Results are automatically captured, times and dates are stamped and automated reports are provided in order to expedite the process.
An emerging technology for police departments across the country is body cameras, which can help protect officers and citizens. In a 12-month randomized study of officers in the police department in Rialto, California, Tony Farrar of the Police Foundation found that the number of use-of-force incidents was reduced by more than 50 percent when compared to control conditions. Also, in the 12 months before the study, there were 10 times more citizens’ complaints.
In addition to lowering the number of complaints and decreasing liability, the technology can also help the public feel safer. Police body cameras help ensure that there is accountability for officers because issues no longer devolve into “he said, she said” accounts but rather can be seen objectively. And that accountability is making a difference. According to Pamela Gould, citizens and officers in Fredericksburg, Virginia, have acted more appropriately because they know they’re being recorded. As Sargent Reed of the Fredericksburg Police Department notes, use of body cameras is “a two-way street.”
Protecting a Police Officer’s Best Friend
Body cameras are also becoming an option for K-9 units. The police department in Glendale, California, estimates the cost to purchase and train a K-9 unit at approximately $20,000. In addition to the cost, K-9 units are an integral part of the emotional life and morale of a police force. Protecting these special officers is a high priority.
The K-9 Storm Intruder product helps meet this need. This product, from Canada’s K-9 Storm, contains a lightweight bulletproof and waterproof vest along with a collapsible video arm, two-way audio device and other attachable gadgets. Each vest is custom-fitted to the dog, with the total weight coming in between 3 and 7 pounds.
Police and corrections agencies, SWAT teams, security firms and law enforcement agencies from 15 countries have purchased the K-9 body armor and multimedia package. The Army, Navy and Marines also use the product, which costs $20,000 to $30,000 per unit.
One of the most dynamic law enforcement technologies is thermal imaging. This technology, which uses sensors known as microelectromechanical systems, produces images from heat, allowing the user to see the heat produced by people.
Often found in military applications for surveillance, police departments have also taken advantage of thermal imaging. In 2013, the Massachusetts State Police used thermal imaging to locate Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston bombing suspect. It can also be used to help locate missing people, such as when Wakefield, Massachusetts, police located a suicidal 19-year-old male, according to the Stoneham Sun. In some search-and-rescue scenarios, thermal imaging can help officers search up to 1,500 feet in any direction.
Other applications for thermal imaging can help police. For instance, thermal imaging can sense the heat left by anti-lock brakes on cars that may not have left skid marks, allowing officers to determine the cause of an accident. Repaired or repainted drywall that is hiding evidence will give off a different thermal signature. And for weapons or drugs tossed by a fleeing suspect, thermal imaging can help officers scan the area for signs of the potential evidence.
Portable Surveillance Tower
Portable SkyWatch surveillance towers from FLIR Systems allow personnel to monitor a wide area with ease. These rugged, portable self-sustained towers work using a hydraulic system that places one or two officers 25 feet in the air. Standard and optional features include the following:
- Air conditioning and heating
- LED flood lights
- Strobe light
- Under-cab safety camera
- Tinted windows
- Thermal imaging cameras
- Wireless connectivity
- Sound commander for communicating with crowds
- One, two or three additional standard day cameras
Police departments across the country are using theses portable surveillance systems for deterrence and emergency response. For the public, it can also heighten safety for concerns such as Black Friday shopping, as Sarah Hagen reports for Clearwater, Florida. Other clients include the military, educational institutions, amusement parks and international users. Overall, FLIR Systems has placed 887 SkyWatch units since 2002.
Predictive Analytical Software
Data is increasingly important, and for law enforcement, it’s just as critical. Analytics is now being used in law enforcement to help predict crimes. Using data to understand patterns and determine hot spots, police departments across the country are using predictive analytical software to determine what criminal behavior patterns are present. It can also monitor those with a criminal history who may be more likely to commit another crime by looking at past criminal activity and determining the likelihood of repeat crimes.
According to Christopher Maffei, an adjunct professor at Southeastern University, the technology is based on the idea of intelligence-led policing, and it’s “the wave of the future.” This theory involves “identifying the supposed six percent of the population that commits 60 percent of the crime,” he said.
In his classes, Maffei teaches how current and future law enforcement professionals can use this new policing theory — which he uses on a daily basis as a deputy and undercover detective. Through real-world examples, Maffei is able to show how these patterns can help professionals fight crime more effectively and efficiently.
The software and policing model has seen success. Candy Phelps reports a 29 percent reduction in violent crimes for Memphis since 2006. According to Jay Aceto, Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, California, police departments saw a 25 percent reduction in crime in targeted areas. Aceto found that police departments in Minneapolis and Texas have also successfully implemented the software.
The Impact of Technology on Law Enforcement
Law enforcement tools and technologies can make a critical difference. The ability to predict crimes, analyze substances and monitor certain areas or objects allow law enforcement officers to remain safe and fight crime more efficiently and effectively. From the development of fingerprinting technology through to the advanced technologies of today, science has long been a part of helping law enforcement professionals save lives.
Of course, these tools can enhance how police departments operate, but they are only an aid to professionals’ skills and knowledge. Through higher education, professionals can equip individuals with the skills they need to be successful.
At Southeastern University, current and future law enforcement professionals can enhance their career with an online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. This program will prepare graduates to enter into leadership positions in the criminal justice industry, learning the skills needed to make the most of the available technology.